Published in the October 23, 2015 edition


WAKEFIELD — Next month, the state Board of Education will decide which student assessment testing system will be adopted statewide as a requirement for graduation: The current Massachusetts Comprehensive Testing System (MCAS) or the new Common Core aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

For 2014-2015, school districts were allowed to choose whether to administer MCAS or PARCC in grades 3-8, with an option to pilot PARCC in grades 9-11. Wakefield School Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith said that the Wakefield Public Schools chose to implement PARCC in all of these grades except for grade 10, as districts continue to be required to implement MCAS as a graduation requirement.

State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is expected to make his recommendation before the state Education Board’s Nov. 17 vote. But Chester recently said that he was weighing a third option that would incorporate elements of both tests.

Asked which test she would prefer, Smith said that her preference is based on which test best meets certain criteria.

“I will back the assessment that emphasizes the development of higher order thinking skills, application of knowledge to new situations, reasoning in Math and strong writing skills across all content areas and provides districts, schools, teachers and families with valuable information to continuously improve student learning,” Smith said.

Her preferred test will also be the one that best uses uses 21st century technology, she said, “because that is what students are using and will need in the future.” She also favors the test that “minimizes interruption to daily instruction as much as is possible and is tightly aligned with the standards taught in Massachusetts schools.”

As of the present time, Smith said that the test that best meets her criteria is PARCC.

“The Common Core State Standards provide the rigor for critical thinking, reasoning and application,” Smith said.

However, if the state is successful in constructing a test that is a blend of PARCC and MCAS, Smith said that she would be fine with it, as long as it meets her aforementioned criteria.

“Good instruction will prepare our students for any quality assessment that is tightly aligned with these standards,” Smith said. “As the Board of Education nears their decision, their focus should remain on selecting or developing a statewide assessment system that is minimally intrusive to instructional time and one that provides us with the imperative, quality data we need to continuously improve teaching and learning in our schools.”

The prospect of changing to a new student testing program has sparked controversy.

Supporters say that the PARCC will enhance tracking student progress and that the test is more in line with learning in the 21st century. Opponents contend that PARCC is no better than MCAS in terms of predicting college readiness and, as a computer-based test, would require a huge adjustment for some school districts.

Other advocates have called for a moratorium on the use of standardized tests as a graduation requirement until a different and more comprehensive test is developed.